Steve Bronski, né Steven Forrest, co-founder and keyboardist for the trailblazing British synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, has died at 61.
Bronski was raised working-class in Glasgow, leaving home multiple times primarily due to his family’s rejection of his sexuality, until eventually trekking to London in 1983.
Bronski Beat broke the mould when they formed in 1983 with vocalist Jimmy Somerville and Larry Steinbackek. The trio were all out and proud gay men…who were also openly political, critical, and angry. Their first gig was a triumph. “The audience was so enthusiastic I just knew something was going to happen,” Bronski explained. “Mind you, I knew the group was going to go well as soon as I heard Jimmy singing.”
Bronski and the rest of the band refused to allow their sexuality to be exploited, however, rejecting a label offer with ZTT. Unlike the prevalent genderbending schticks or celebratory anthems of bands like Soft Cell or Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Bronski Beat preferred instead to focus on less glamourous societal issues, such as ignorance of LGBTQ prejudice and discrimination, and their dangers.
1984’s post-disco, hi-NRG smash hit “Smalltown Boy” spoke openly about the ignorance of LGBTQ prejudice and discrimination, a rallying cry for disowned youth to seek safer, more inviting pastures. The song, Bronski’s own autobiographical tale, came out just as the era of AIDS was amping up, and the political discourse of the time yanked queer fears to the forefront. Another single, “Why”, confronted the prejudice head-on.
While bands like Culture Club and Eurythmics explored themes of gender-bending, kink, and queer self-expression for those who had managed to escape and find likeminded souls, the video for Smalltown Boy confronted the true horrors most LGBTQ people were actually experiencing: Jimmy Somerville being chased by a homophobic gang, harassed by police, and cruelly disowned by his parents – simply for existing authentically. Jimmy Somerville’s primal howl of grief hit a nerve most contemporary LGBTQ bands were more than ready to ignore.
“At the time we were just three gay guys who started a band,” Bronski explained. “We didn’t feel like part of any particular movement…of course, it would transpire many years later that there were more gay artists than the public were led to believe…When you saw it written down, the discrimination was astonishing.”
Nevertheless, Bronski Beat was one of the first of its kind, particularly in Britain, to refuse diminishing their identities as a cheap prop or ploy for controversy, but rather use their talents and newfound notoriety as a platform for change and acceptance. Although they did have a hit with their cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, the band overall had closer ties to Midnight Oil than, say, Sylvester.
“(Paul Morley’s) “idea was to have us wear and market T-shirts that basically said that we were gay, because they’d have words like ‘QUEER’ or ‘POOF’ printed on them,” Somerville once scoffed. (For perspective, when Bronski Beat hit it big, homosexuality had only been legal in England for just fifteen years.)
The trio’s debut album, The Age of Consent, listed the ages of consent for gay sex around the world. Paying it forward, the record’s inner groove was etched with the number of the London Gay Switchboard. Bronski Beat also raised funds for the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign, later depicted in the 2014 British film Pride.
In 1985, Somerville left the band to form The Communards. Bronski and Steinbachek continued to release music as Bronski Beat. After Steinbachek died of cancer in 2017, Steve Bronski, who kept busy as a producer, released the group’s first album in 22 years: a revamp of The Age of Reason.
For the rest of his life, Bronski fiercely advocated for gay and trans rights.
“Working with him on songs and the one song that changed our lives and touched so many other lives, was a fun and exciting time,” said Somerville via his IG. Thanks for the melody, Steve.”
Bronski made a hugely positive impact for the queer community throughout his life, and he will be sorely missed, but forever appreciated.